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Review of A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery

marrin_volcano beneath the snowA Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery
by Albert Marrin
Middle School, High School    Knopf    234 pp.
4/14    978-0-307-98152-3    $19.99
Library ed.  978-0-307-98153-0    $22.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-385-75340-1    $10.99

According to the prologue, John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry helped “set the stage for the Civil War.” His violent actions raise an issue that still resonates today: to what extremes may a person go to change an unjust law? The book begins with a chapter on Brown’s life, then takes a broader look at the history of slavery. The man himself gets lost in the (somewhat unwieldy) sections on the American frontier, Arab slave traders, and the rise of the Atlantic slave trade, but they do set the scene for Brown’s actions. The final chapter, “Legacy,” offers a brief commentary on Brown’s influence on the militant arm of the American civil rights movement along with the way he inspired contemporary terrorists Paul Hill and Timothy McVeigh (both of whom, chillingly, cited Brown in their belief that they were avenging innocents and waging war on evil). Like authors Marc Aronson and Steve Sheinkin, Marrin is not just reporting history, he’s shaping a discussion to prove its relevance for the present generation. Archival photographs along with a thorough bibliography and list of websites round out an intelligent and important volume.

From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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